By Andrew Beaton 

Colin Kaepernick and Walt Disney Co. have reached a deal that brings together the activist quarterback and the entertainment giant to produce content about the racial and social topics Kaepernick has championed.

The new venture brings together Disney, one of the NFL's biggest financial partners via its ESPN networks, and Kaepernick, an outspoken critic of the league. Kaepernick has gone unemployed as a football player for three years after launching player protests during the national anthem against police brutality and systemic racism.

The Disney-Kaepernick partnership will include "scripted and unscripted stories that explore race, social injustice and the quest for equity," the parties said in a release, and will "showcase the work of Black and Brown directors and producers." The content will be available on platforms including ESPN, Hulu and The Undefeated, the ESPN platform that covers racial and cultural issues.

The deal's first project is a docuseries chronicling Kaepernick's last five years, when his demonstrations rocked the country's most popular sports league. Kaepernick, who has been virtually silent in public about his clashes with the league, will tell his story from his perspective in the series.

"I look forward to sharing the docuseries on my life story, in addition to many other culturally impactful projects we are developing," Kaepernick said in a statement.

In the statement, Disney executive chairman Bob Iger positioned the deal as part of Disney's ongoing commitment to promoting diverse content. Last week, Disney said a new visual album from Beyoncé titled "Black is King" will come out in July on Disney+ in a project that celebrates Black resilience and culture.

The deal adds to Kaepernick's growing portfolio of business endeavors at a time when the country has been immersed in protests against police brutality and systemic racism since George Floyd's killing. Those are the same issues Kaepernick called attention to when he protested during the national anthem. Last week, Netflix announced a scripted series with Kaepernick and filmmaker Ava DuVernay, covering his high school years. Previously in June, Kaepernick joined the board of directors of Medium, which partnered with Kaepernick's publishing arm to "create feature content focused on race and civil rights in America."

Kaepernick was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers until 2016, the season he started player protests during the national anthem against social injustices. He has gone unsigned since that season, and alleged in a since-settled grievance that the NFL and its 32 teams colluded to keep him unsigned over his outspoken political views. The settlement was for less than $10 million, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.

Those protests transformed the NFL into a lightning rod. Politicians such as President Trump assailed the movement as unpatriotic, while others praised the peaceful protest. It thrust the league into years of controversy that was reenergized after Floyd's killing, when the symbolism of Kaepernick's protest was salient in the public eye. Kaepernick took a knee to protest police brutality; Floyd was killed after a police officer placed a knee on Floyd's neck.

This isn't the first time Kaepernick has paired with a company that does major business with the NFL. In 2018, Nike Inc. made Kaepernick the face of a major advertising campaign, and the parties' triangular relationship has at times been thorny -- including when Nike was caught in the middle of a failed workout the NFL tried to set up for Kaepernick in 2019.

Disney and the NFL have a substantial relationship that most notably includes the rights to air Monday Night Football. In a 2011 deal that runs through 2021, ESPN agreed to pay $15.2 billion for those rights.

Kaepernick's deal with Disney also reunites it with Jemele Hill, an outspoken journalist and advocate, into the company's umbrella. Hill, who now writes for The Atlantic, previously worked at ESPN for 12 years, but the parties split in 2018 after a rocky period that included a suspension because of her political outspokenness. Hill will serve as a producer on the docuseries chronicling Kaepernick's journey.

The national uproar over the causes that Kaepernick has spent years championing has led to renewed calls for a team to sign him. Although he remains a free agent, the NFL has pivoted with an energized message on these issues in recent months.

After criticism from players that the league had not done enough, commissioner Roger Goodell released a jarring video in which he said the league was wrong and should have listened to its players earlier. It was the NFL's most forceful call to action yet on the subject, although critics noted he did not specifically address Kaepernick in the video.

Write to Andrew Beaton at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 06, 2020 12:15 ET (16:15 GMT)

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